Sunday, July 29, 2012

Picnics - Claudia Roden

I was really pleased when out and about today to see a new reissue of Claudia Roden's 'Picnics and Other Outdoor Feasts' (interesting too to see that it's cheaper now than it was when I bought my copy 11 years ago - which when you take into consideration inflation is something to celebrate).

The charms of camping had escaped me by the time I reached my teens (my life is simply better with proper plumbing and beds in it, also there are many things that live in fields that I don't want to spend the night with) but I still love a picnic (my next sister down doesn't hold with picnics either, possibly regarding them as the thin end of a wedge that will see her stranded in a tent before she can fight back, suggestions that she might like it are denied in the strongest imaginable terms). The ones we went on as children were nothing like as exotic as Claudia Roden's memories of outdoor meals in the Seychelles or Egypt. Cold chicken, cheese and pickle sandwiches (heinz mild mustard pickle), wagon wheels, and orange segments were what we had (and very good it was too).

The food scene in Britain has changed somewhat since those days - a few minutes in any supermarket will furnish a picnic basket that would have utterly defied my young imagination (though would anything in it taste better than the picnic foods I remember?) and that perhaps is the beauty of this book. It's broken down into 4 sections; eating in the garden, food to take out, cooking in the open, and suggestions for the traveller. There is everything in here from suggestion for al fresco wedding breakfasts to instructions for making and using a haybox with plenty in-between - this is the source for my preferred ratatouille recipe. 

It's been a while since I last pulled this book of the shelf. I remembered it as a source of inspiration but had forgotten just how much was in here - it's probably best described as a sort of gallimaufry of information - recipes, memoires, cultural history, and quotations (Jane Austen on strawberry picking, Trollope and Surtees on picnics and many, many more). When I first read this I would have been mildly suspicious of sushi and sashimi, but again it's now almost ubiquitous as well as being an ideal picnic food. I may still not be that keen on making my own, but the account of Japanese picnics to celebrate the full moon and cherry blossom sound delightful and perhaps do-able if I can find a suitable venue and round up some people (and of course there is the weather to consider) who would like to eat under an August harvest moon whilst reading poetry (youngest sister would probably comply but sadly she's miles and miles away).

There are a few picnic books about but none of them have made me feel they having anything more to offer than this one for eating outdoors or in, or even just reading for inspiration. It is wonderful to see it back in print.

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